Why can I no longer buy Paracetamol without a prescription?

We explain why you currently need a prescription to buy paracetamol of one gram and the dangers of this drug as well as the need for greater control and rationality in the consumption of medicines.

Many have resorted to paracetamol on occasion to treat a headache, joint, blows or high fever. This well-known medicine belongs to the therapeutic group of paraaminophenols, and is characterized by its analgesic and antipyretic effects that soothe pain and reduce fever, respectively.

Unlike the also widely used ibuprofen, it has no anti-inflammatory properties. This limits its usefulness for the treatment of ailments that occur with inflammation such as a sore throat, sprains, and arthritis, despite possible popular beliefs.

This year there has been a stir over the apparent new need to go to the doctor to get a prescription that allows you to buy paracetamol in a pharmacy office. Next, we will discover what the motivations have been and what the new control measures on this famous drug really consist of.

What dangers can the use of paracetamol entail?

Although paracetamol enjoys high safety, backed by more than 30 years of experience since the beginning of its approval by the Agency for Medicines and Health Products, it is important to take into account the dangers of a higher dose intake recommended.

The most common is to take a tablet or envelope (whose composition in grams can vary) every 8 hours, which coincide approximately with the three main meals of the day. However, in more pronounced pains the number of shots can be increased. Precisely in these cases we must adhere to what the doctor or pharmacist indicates, or to what the leaflet reflects.

Because paracetamol is converted in our body into another compound that can be very harmful to the liver, it is very important to know that the maximum dose that can be ingested within the safety margin is 4 grams. In practice it would be equivalent to taking four tablets of 1 gram of paracetamol per day. Exceeded this amount would significantly increase the likelihood of a liver failure that could have fatal consequences.

The importance of the recipe

Actually, it is nothing new for a patient to go to the pharmacy with a prescription so they can dispense paracetamol. The need for a doctor's prescription depends mainly on the dosage and the number of tablets in the box.

Presentations with tablets or sachets containing 500 or 650 milligrams of paracetamol or, in general, those containing 1 gram but with a maximum of 10 tablets (except for a specific exception), do not need a prescription.

On the contrary, medicines containing more than 10 tablets (usually 20 or 40) of 1 gram of paracetamol do require it according to a regulation that entered into force in 2017.

What has motivated the restrictions in pharmacies?

Recent figures indicated a sale of paracetamol presentations that require a medical prescription far superior to the prescriptions that had been issued. This fact suggested risks associated with improper use, especially by using higher doses than those that are really effective (500 or 650 milligrams) for most ailments in which paracetamol can be helpful.

In order to avoid the occurrence of adverse effects associated with taking high doses of paracetamol, the health authorities decided to increase the access restriction. In this way, the patient is not required to provide the prescription from now on (as if it were a new impediment). It only ensures that it does so in accordance with the regulations that had already been in effect for some time.

This greater control is now carried out thanks to the new Drug Verification System, although its main objective is very different from the one that concerns us here.

We must be rational with the use of medications

It is necessary to emphasize that not always the highest dose of a drug will be the one that controls the symptoms more effectively and safely. Examples such as paracetamol and ibuprofen show the need to emphasize achieving an adequate risk-benefit ratio. And what does this imply? Select an optimal pattern. In other words, a dose, number of doses per day and duration of treatment that effectively stop the ailment and minimize possible collateral damage.

Despite being very evident, we must not insist on the importance of always following the recommendations of the doctor and pharmacist to take paracetamol and any medication at the appropriate doses and time intervals. To do this, we must all be consistent and responsible and make proper use, regardless of whether a prescription is required or not.